Did Trump TV Premiere Last Night?

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Photo: George Frey/Getty Images

“Forget the press — read the internet,” Donald Trump advised supporters in Colorado on Tuesday. “Don’t go for the mainstream media.”

But most Americans — including the Republican nominee — would rather watch their news than read it. And so, as Trump’s campaign staggers toward the finish line, like a bloated, asthmatic teenager who can’t remember why he joined the cross-country team — and even the once fair-and-balanced Fox News refuses to unskew the lamestream media’s crooked polls — many of the mogul’s supporters have found themselves bereft of a reliable news source (save for the 60 minutes Sean Hannity is on the air).

And so, on Wednesday night, Trump created a channel just for them. Roughly 30 minutes before Chris Wallace asked the first question in Las Vegas, the GOP nominee posted to Facebook, “If you’re tired of biased, mainstream media reporting (otherwise known as Crooked Hillary’s super PAC), tune into my Facebook Live broadcast.”

Hosted by commentators from the Right Side Broadcasting network, a conservative online channel based in Alabama, the program featured political analysis from Trump campaign surrogates General Michael Flynn and former Arizona governor Jan Brewer. This extended infomercial was interspersed with more polished and concise advertisements for the Trump campaign, including a special message from Ivanka.

Watching the broadcast, one might think that Trump’s chief complaint with mainstream cable news was the quality of its sound production. The program looked and sounded like something from a poorly managed, propagandistic public-access channel — or the 4 a.m. show on the state television network of a dying regime.

Still, the appeal of the project became more apparent once the debate was over. As Trump surrogates ran for the spin room to rationalize the candidate’s decision to keep America “in suspense” about whether he plans to accept the results on November 8 — and CNN’s insta-poll declared Hillary Clinton the debate’s winner — all was sunny and placid on Trump’s Facebook page. As Politico’s Kelsey Sutton writes:

“By far his best debate. A clear and decisive victory.” Jeff Dewitt, one of the hosts, declared it “the greatest Republican debate performance since Abraham Lincoln.”

During their post-debate show, they repeated the oft-debunked claim that Trump said he was against the Iraq War, thanked Trump repeatedly for being inspirational, and expressed their excitement for the inevitable Trump presidency.

They also, at one point, suggested that Clinton Foundation money was used for Clinton’s “white teeth,” though Trump’s looked whiter, actually.

Over the past few months, there has been a smattering of reports that Trump is contemplating the launch of some kind of right-wing media project after November. That narrative gained steam when Trump filled the inner circle of his campaign with reactionary infotainers like Steve Bannon and Roger Ailes.

And the project makes intuitive sense. Trump’s business is his brand. The last 16 months have done much to erode the value of his name as a signifier of (apolitical) luxury — while drastically increasing its value as a signifier of right-wing outrage. At this point, it’s hard to see a better way for Trump to monetize his self-image than through some kind of conservative media enterprise.

Still, there are a lot of reasons to doubt that Trump TV will be in your cable package by this time next year. It costs a lot to start a cable network, possibly as much as $800 million according to the Street. There’s little reason to think Trump would be willing to invest that money himself, considering that he has blanched at the cost of funding internal polling for his campaign, as Ryan Lizza notes. And he’ll likely have a hard time finding that much outside funding, considering how perilous it would be for mainstream brands, from a public-relations perspective, to take out ads on Trump’s network.

Thus, if Trump TV rises from the ashes of his campaign, it will probably look less like Fox News, and more like Wednesday night’s Facebook broadcast. As The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson writes:

If the year were 1996, Trump’s inability to secure investment for a cable news network would mean the end of his television dreams. But today there are tens of millions of U.S. households subscribing to Netflix, Amazon Video, and other “over the top” (OTT) online video options that go around the cable bundle. Trump could build a digital television network … Even one million Trump TV subscribers paying $150 a year (or about $12 a month) for a television, radio, and website product would mean $150 million in the first year. That would probably be enough to lure Hannity at a discount and other conservative fixtures like Laura Ingraham to Trump’s stable.

On Tuesday, Trump campaign manager and Breitbart mastermind Steve Bannon was asked whether Trump planned to start a television network, should he lose in November.

“Trump is an entrepreneur,” Bannon said, grinning.

Did Trump TV Premiere Last Night?